tagRomanceThew View From the Hill at Twilight

Thew View From the Hill at Twilight



The hilltop was fairly open, only a few sparse trees to block the view. There was just one large, very old maple right at the top, towering over anything else close by. The sun was just at the edge of the horizon but the thick clouds hid the orb itself, while still letting its fiery colors infect their edges. A little farther to the north the clouds were more gray with just the slightest touch of reddish orange but were often set off by flashes of distant heat lightning. It was a hot, damp July evening, high in the eastern Kentucky mountains. Perhaps the distant clouds promised the chance of a cooling thunderstorm before morning. The "red sky at night" of the distant clouds was probably a little far away to accurately predict good weather before the dawn. The wind had dropped with only the occasional slight zephyr to interrupt the damp heat. Fireflies were starting to rise from the grass, flashing their answers to the invitations of their mates on the ground below. Otherwise the world seemed still, frozen in a scene of relaxation rarely achieved in nature. Only the infrequent cry of a whippoorwill interrupted the silence of the evening.

Leaning back against the trunk of the huge maple was a pretty girl with blue eyes and long, corn silk blonde hair hanging loose about her shoulders. A slight smile ghosted across her face as she thought that the tree had been here before her great, great, great grandparents had moved into this part of the country. Its trunk was almost five feet across and it rose above anything nearby. Emily Letton was thirteen. She often came up here to just sit and think and liked to believe that in the distant past some young Cherokee girl had leaned against this same trunk when the tree was much smaller. There was a good chance she was right in her belief.

Emily could be found here most any time of year and many times of day. In fall when the dark clouds scudded across the open sky and the bright colored leaves rattled in the wind. In winter when often the surrounding hills were white with a soft blanket of snow. In spring when the leaves were just budding and violets and other spring flowers carpeted the surrounding land. On a sunny noontime or a cloudy afternoon. Sometimes as the sun was just rising, its rays spreading from the eastern peaks across the land. Even sometimes at night when the stars filling the sky seemed without number. But her favorite time was in summer at twilight, just before sunset. Then the breeze usually dropped, the air began to cool and the world began to settle for the night. From June through August fireflies began to rise from the grass and the occasional call of an owl or whippoorwill was all that disturbed the silence.

Emily had come up here frequently for a number of years. The view across the land was always lovely. And inspiring. To Emily the view wasn't limited to the actual landscape but also included a view into herself and, sometimes, a view into her future.

Sometimes her brother, John, seven years older, accompanied her to the hilltop but most often she came alone. Anytime she had a problem or a decision to make or any other big topic to consider, she found this place most conducive to serious thought. Lately she had been giving a lot of thought to her future. She was getting to an age where other girls she knew were beginning to talk about their future expectations, but theirs were far removed from her own. At thirteen most of the girls had begun to seriously notice boys. In this remote region most of the families had been around for generations and most of the girls thought they would be no different. Almost all were thinking about marriage to some local boy. Oh, not immediately, of course. They would wait until they were at least sixteen. Actually most would not get married until into their early twenties despite the stereotype of the Kentucky hill dwellers. Still, at thirteen, most were looking forward to a limited future. A couple were sure they would be great country singers and move to California or at least Nashville but most thought they would spend their lives in these hills.

Emily was almost unique in that she desperately wanted to go to college and study engineering. She also knew that there was no way her family could afford college. She loved the out of doors and loved the hill country but she realized that here almost everyone was either a farmer or worked for the mines. Farming was not her thing and she had absolutely no interest in the mines, not even their engineering. No, she wanted to build. Buildings, maybe, but if she really had the choice it would be roads. That way she could work outdoors but could still create with technology. She really had no idea where this driving urge had originated. Maybe from a book she had read or, perhaps, from some overheard conversation. She just knew that for the last few years this had been her dream.

It hadn't come from her family. Emily's father worked for a mining company. Not as a miner but as a welder, repairing some of the equipment. Her mother, of course, didn't work outside the home. Very few women in this area did once they were married. Her older brother, John, had managed to escape the trap of the mines by playing football and had gotten a scholarship. His only real interest in college had been football and ROTC. He had told Emily that when he graduated he wanted to stay in the army. See the world. Do exciting things. Still, he didn't seem to have a very good idea just what exciting things. The military did not appeal to Emily. She knew her desired profession would take her out into the world and although she loved the country here she didn't want the kind of future it seemed to offer.

Now Emily watched the sun finally sink below the horizon. For another half hour she remained there, looking out at the darkening sky and the emerging stars, but also trying to see a way clear for the future she so desired. When the first of these bright points of light had just appeared, she recited, to herself, but in a just audible whisper, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ..." She continued with the silent wish only half formed in her mind. She couldn't actually put it into words, but she knew it was really a wish for an almost impossible future - one in which she could keep the geography but have the kind of life she so desperately desired. She gave a sigh and decided that, at least for now, she would just continue to try and learn as much science and math as she could and maybe, just maybe, something might work out.


It was again July, two years later. Emily was now fifteen and in high school. Her brother had graduated from college in May and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the army. Her whole family had gone over to the college for the ceremonies. This was only Emily's third trip more than a hundred miles from her home, but that was still three more than many of her friends had made. There were even some of her friends' parents who had never been more than two counties away in their lives - and the counties here about were actually quite small.

Still, it wasn't like it had been fifty years ago when the region was really isolated. Now most families did have satellite TV and thus some idea what the rest of the world might be like, even if a lot of the programs gave a very distorted idea of the real world. It wasn't that people didn't know about the rest of the world. No, it was just that most had no urge to see it. Emily was an exception.

Walking around the campus in Lexington before the graduation ceremonies, Emily felt nearly overwhelmed. Not with the big campus but with emotions. The desire to go to college, to study and learn, was stronger than ever but she saw no way it might really happen. She felt excited at seeing the facilities and at the same time nearly ready to cry at the thought that she would probably never make it here.

Emily had skipped John's tour of the football facilities and instead walked over to the engineering part of campus. She was wandering around the building, looking at the displays in the Civil Engineering Department when a man in his fifties walked by and noticed her engrossed in the exhibits. There was something about this girl, about the way she looked at the displays with such a longing, that he stopped and just watched her for several minutes. Unbidden, the image of a hungry kid looking in a bakery window came to mind. There was a definite longing in the way she examined the displays before her. Finally he went up to her and said, "Hi. Looks like you might be interested in Civil Engineering."

Startled, Emily quickly turned around and looked at him. He didn't look threatening or anything and besides they were in a busy public building. She managed to respond, "Yes, I think so. I don't know an awful lot about it, though."

He smiled at her and said, "Well, I'm Professor Branson so I'm supposed to know something about it. If you have any questions I'll be happy to try and answer them."

Emily was not one to pass up an opportunity and began asking a number of questions. After the first fifteen minutes he had suggested they go over to the nearby snack bar and get a coke and she had ended up spending the next two hours with him, both learning a lot and also telling him about her own situation. He had then even taken her back to his office and given her some handouts describing what courses she should be taking in high school along with a few other things. She had said she wasn't sure her school had all the courses and he had looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then asked, "Do you have internet access?"

"We have some at home and I can get high speed at school.'

"Well, let me recommend a few websites. These have material - even short courses - you can take for free." He wrote some ISPs on a sheet of paper. Then he stopped and looked at her. "Emily, I think you are a very serious young lady. You really want to go into this, don't you?"

"Yes, Sir. Very definitely. I'm just not sure I can learn everything I need at school."

"Maybe not, but, tell me, can you learn things on your own? From books or the net?"

"Yes, Sir." Then she added, "When I can get the books."

"Yes, I think your major problem is not learning, but getting the chance." He again stopped for a few seconds and looked thoughtful. "I'll make you a deal, Miss Letton. You impress me as a very bright and determined young lady. Suppose I make a list of what you should be studying each semester and either tell you where to find it or, maybe even lend you a book or something. If you really study and work at it - and can show me you have - in another couple of years if you still want, I'll help you apply and even write a letter of recommendation for you to enter here."

Emily could hardly believe her ears. "That would be fantastic! I can promise you I'll really work at it." Then a little of the excitement left her and she had to add, "Still, I don't know how I can pay for college. My family can't help much, I know."

Professor Branson smiled. "Well, they do want to be paid. But there are ways. Scholarships and grants and even loans. When the time comes I can help steer you in the right direction for those also."

She had thanked him again several times and before she left he pulled a book from a shelf in his office and handed it to her. "This is a general introduction to Civil Engineering. It will give you a better idea of just what areas you might find most interesting. Take it with you and spend some time this summer with it. You have my e-mail address so when you have questions, feel free to ask."

Now in July, Emily was again sitting against the old maple at twilight, but this time she was making some very definite plans. She had read the book Professor Branson had given her and had asked him several questions. He had answered her and suggested some additional material. Then he had suggested she start by working a little on her math. She had taken algebra and geometry and gotten grades of A in both courses. She was supposed to take a second year of Algebra in the fall and now he suggested she go ahead and start on some trig. He gave her a web address for a free online course and Emily had just started it. She often brought homework problems up here. When the weather was good, it was a great place to work with no distractions.

She had completed the problems she had brought up with her and was now just looking out at the distant horizon while in her mind laying out some other areas in which to work. Her family certainly didn't discourage her but they didn't see the driving need she felt herself. After all, neither of her parents had gone beyond high school and didn't see things the same way Emily did. Still, they would let her make up her own mind even though they had made it clear they couldn't help pay her way. Emily understood that and told them that Professor Branson had said he would help her find funding elsewhere.

John, home for another three weeks before he went on active duty, kidded her and said that Branson was probably going to try and make her his sex slave or something. Emily was turning into a very attractive young woman. She stood five foot seven and was quite slim. In the country here most girls got enough exercise that they had well toned muscles and Emily was no exception. She had developed a very attractive figure with nicely rounded, smooth curves, and John was not kidding when he told her that men - including the professor - would really like to get her in bed.

Emily knew he was just teasing so she didn't really resent his comments. She had always looked up to her big brother and he had always treated her quite well. They were better friends than most siblings, sharing confidences and always ready to support each other. In fact, John was one of the very few people she knew with dreams beyond the local area. For this reason, even though their dreams were different, each could relate to the other. When she thought about it, John was probably Emily's best friend as well as her brother.

Socially, Emily was not totally without experience. With her looks she was asked out by many of the boys from her school. She had dated a number of them and over the last year had learned the pleasure of kissing and mild petting, but hadn't really gone much further. While she had the same urges as other girls her age she had no intension of actually having sex with anyone. She knew she didn't expect to get serious about any of the boys she knew here. None of them understood her desire for more education and to actually work as an engineer. Emily had also realized she was quite a bit smarter than any of the boys she knew and this made them seem even less acceptable as a long term interest. Still, she had learned that intelligence did not seem to be a prerequisite for kissing ability, so for the short term she had no problem dating the local boys. She had learned to relieve some of the stress with her own hands and often did so after a make out session that left her physically frustrated. She was looking forward to college for more than one reason.

Suddenly her contemplation was interrupted by a call from the path. "Hi, Sis. Thinking about what to do when the professor tries to get into your pants?"

Emily snapped her head around to see John emerging from the woods at the top of the path. As he moved over and flopped down against the tree next to her she replied, "Oh, I know what to do. I'll just need to decide if I want to do it." They both laughed and then Emily added, "No, seriously John, I'm just thinking about the Law of Sines and how to use it,"

"Math! Ugh. I always knew there must be something a little wrong with you, Kid." Then in a different tone he added, "Really, Em, I'm glad you see what you want to do. Probably a lot better than I do. I just know I want to see the world, go places. I love being outdoors - cities don't grab me - but I'm not really sure just what I want to do there. Maybe when I get out of the army I might look into going into the Forest Service or something like that."

"Well, I guess you'll have three or four years to think about it."

"Yeah. Six weeks down at Benning training and then somewhere. Probably somewhere a ways off from here."

They sat in silence for several minutes, just looking out at the sunset. Then Emily said, "Well, I hope you find what you want, Brother."

"And I hope you find what you want, too, Em."

They remained silent for another quarter hour as the darkness began to seep over the valleys and hills. Then with only a quick look at each other, they rose and started back down the path.

Part way down the hill John said, "Say, Em. I'm leaving in another three weeks. Think you might be able to forget about ...math... for a couple of days and we could go camping somewhere?"

John had been the one to introduce Emily to backpacking and they had often gone on short hikes together. Surprised, but happy to be asked, Emily replied, "I expect so. Where did you have in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe over to the Fox Creek Gorge area. That's always nice."

Fox Creek Gorge was in a national forest not too far away. They had hiked and camped there a number of times. "Yes, that does sound good." Then she added, "I would have thought that you might be expecting a lot of camping out during your training and wouldn't want to add to it."

He laughed. "Probably will. But I'm pretty sure the company won't be as nice." Then in a teasing tone he added, "Unless this new co-ed army is a little better than I expect."

Emily laughed. "I doubt that. But I'm sure you could find some girls around here who would make a trip quite interesting."

John's face took on a more serious look. "I might at that, but, Emily, you know I'm not serious about anyone. Besides, no one else is as good a friend." Then to tease her a little more he said, "They might not even be as good a lay."

John and Emily were able to tease back and forth like with no problem although they never did it where anyone else could overhear. "Well, you'll never know, Brother."

Then without the tease John said, "What about you, Little Sister? Have you found anyone you like well enough to sleep with?"

Emily answered, "No, you know I haven't. Maybe when I go to college, but not around here. I'm still a true Tennessee virgin." Then smiling she added, "I can still outrun you."

Both laughed at the old joke. A Tennessee virgin is a twelve year old who can outrun her brothers. In another minute Emily asked, "When did you have in mind going?"

"I don't know. The weather looks pretty good. Want to go day after tomorrow for two or three days?"

"That sounds all right. I don't think Mom and Dad have anything planned for then and I can be free. We can check when we get back to the house."

Two days later they had driven the forty-five miles over to the gorge, parked at the trail head and were shouldering their packs. The day was mostly sunny with temperature in the upper seventies. Both were wearing cutoffs, tee shirts and hiking boots. As per protocol they hadn't needed to get permits but left a note on the windshield saying they were camping along the gorge trail and when they would be back out.

The trail began along the spine of a ridge but soon descended into the gorge in a series of switchbacks. With the warm temperatures and the typical high humidity of the Kentucky mountains they were both soon soaked in sweat, something which bothered neither of them. In this region this was not unusual at all in summer. At least there weren't any mosquitos.

The trail mostly followed the bottom of the gorge with its small stream and by about four they came upon a nice camping area. They had stayed here before and were happy to see it was empty. Actually they hadn't seen anyone at all, which wasn't too surprising for a weekday. The camp site was an open glade, some thirty feet across, hidden in a grove of beech and hickory. The stream was forty feet or so away. There it fell over a three foot waterfall and opened to a pool some thirty feet across before shrinking to a narrow stream once more to flow on down the gorge.

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byjfremont© 6 comments/ 5986 views/ 15 favorites

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